Cannabis use: when is it an addiction?

As we all know; the abusive use of a drug causes physical and mental disturbances as well as a state of physical dependence, psychological dependence and tolerance.

La zoophobie

1. Introduction

As we all know; drug abuse causes physical and mental disturbances as well as physical dependence, psychological dependence and tolerance.

Some people wonder if cannabis is really addictive. Often at the heart of debates about its legalization, cannabis is nonetheless a drug that can have devastating effects in the short, medium and long term.

Qualified as a “soft drug”, created by our mother nature, it is nevertheless harmless. In fact, the negative consequences that can lead to dependence are very real.

For Dr. Olievenstein, the drug problem is an equation with three parameters: the meeting of the product, a personality and a socio-cultural moment.

Let’s start with some figures:
    • One out of two adults (45%) has tried cannabis at least once in their lives.
    • Among 18-64 year olds, one in four smokers (25%) is at high risk of problematic use or dependence on cannabis.
      • This risk concerns 3% of the adult population (4% of men and 1% of women), or more than one million people.
    • One and a half million French people between the ages of 11 and 75 are regular smokers (at least 10 times a month), and 900,000 smoke daily.
    • At age 17, four out of ten young people (39%) have already used cannabis and 7.2% of them are regular smokers (9.7% of boys and 4.5% of girls).
    • One in four (25%) 17-year-olds who smoke pot are at risk of problematic use or dependence (29% of boys and 20% of girls), or 7% of 17-year-olds in France.

Among both adults and adolescents, France is the European leader in cannabis use (Drogue, Chiffres clés, 2019).


2. What is cannabis?


The discovery of natural medicine:

First and foremost, cannabis is a plant that, when smoked or eaten, produces a pleasant feeling: a euphoria or high. Like all behaviors or substances that make us feel good, cannabis activates the neurological circuits associated with reward and triggers the release of neurotransmitters from the reward circuits in our brain.

Cannabis contains many molecules, called cannabinoids, which are responsible for the effects of its consumption on the body. Among the best known and most present active ingredients are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Depending on the product, the concentration of each of these elements can vary greatly.

In short, the concentration of THC has a psychoactive component (euphoric) but also an analgesic component (it relieves pain), an antiemetic (it reduces vomiting) and an appetite stimulant. It also has some antispasmodic effects.

Cannabis can be found in various forms: dried flowers or leaves, hashish (resin), oils, as well as in the form of edible products (candy, butter,…). Indeed, the use of cannabis for medical purposes dates back to the reign of the Chinese emperor Shen Nong. The Egyptians and the Romans also used it as an anti-inflammatory medicine. In India, cannabis was used to relieve anxiety.

In common parlance, cannabis is often considered as a soft drug, but is it a scientifically valid concept?

3. What are the consequences?


Like all psychotropic drugs, cannabis poses risks to the body’s organs and the brain, for both young and old.

Symptoms can appear on the first use, and intensify and multiply as use becomes a habit.


Physical health risks

Even with occasional use, cannabis can cause damage to the lungs and heart. Because it is smoked, it presents similar dangers to tobacco, such as increased heart rate, damage to blood vessels and airway congestion.

In the long term, the use of cannabis herb or resin can lead to chronic bronchitis and coughing episodes, lung infections, etc.

Mental health risks

Beyond the consequences on the organs, cannabis acts without question on the brain, with sometimes very serious disorders. We know for example that this substance can be responsible for psychosis, paranoid episodes, depression, hallucinations, etc. Cannabis can also aggravate existing psychiatric disorders, such as mood disorders or schizophrenia.

In teenage users, regular inhalation of cannabis also challenges the proper development of the brain (and can be a trigger for psychiatric illnesses). Symptoms such as memory loss, difficulty concentrating, inability to make decisions, etc. are noted. All of this is not only unpleasant and disabling in everyday life, but can also lead to school dropout and/or social isolation.

As you have understood, cannabis has a real addictive potential. And even more so when combined with tobacco, whose nicotine is also addictive.

In order to find the sensations of the first times, the doses of cannabis in the joint increase progressively, until the sensation of the first time is not found anymore. Then, by dint of daily repetitions, it comes that without the product, there is an inability to function properly.

When the addiction is installed, it is difficult to stop using cannabis calmly, and the substance takes over your life. This can lead to relationship difficulties (family, couple, friends, etc.), problems at work, interruption of sports and/or artistic activities, and lead the addicted person into a vicious circle.

The short-term consequences can then become more lasting:

  • memory impairment (short-term)
  • attention and thought disorders
  • increased procrastination
  • mood disorders (depression)
  • development/increase in anxiety disorders
  • insomnia problems
  • heart problems,
  • liver damage, etc.

Withdrawal is accompanied by difficult moments that encourage people to smoke again: 

  • irritability,
  • sleep problems,
  • mood swings,
  • anxiety,
  • excessive sweating, etc.

4. Solutions to get out of the addiction cycle

To get out of the addiction in a serene and lasting way, the first step is to take stock of your consumption.

Addicts who have already tried to stop using cannabis will tell you: attempts to stop alone, without support or substitutes, sometimes (but fortunately not always) end in failure.

If it is an occasional use, it is possible to stop alone, and sometimes it only takes one attempt.

However, in the case of regular use, it is wiser to call on a professional.

Virtual reality allows you to work on your thoughts, triggers and the craving you feel. This form of therapy will allow you to apprehend the world differently, to create again the neuronal connections of pleasure, to increase your self-esteem, your self-confidence, to work on the positive thoughts, to work on the false beliefs.

All this work will be done in a context of reactivation of neurotransmitters and in a playful and pleasant practice. The psychologist who accompanies you will know how to help you find pleasure and make your daily life more serene.